by Malcolm Jolley

Cod Ranching in Gooseberry Cove, Newfondland. Photo: CleanFish

Alisha Lumea is on the phone from her office in Brooklyn. She wants me (and chefs and restaurant patrons across North America) to change the way we think about sustainable fish. CleanFish, the company she works for – her title is “Evangelist” – is a seafood brokerage was founded by Tim O’Shea and Dale Sims five years ago that seeks out clean, sustainable aquaculture. In other words, they look for good fish farmers and market their “livestock” to distributers across North America, who then sell the fish to restaurants.

As Lumea sees it, the quest for non-polluting, healthy fish farming has unnecessarily condemned the whole enterprise of aquaculture. “The conflict is between industrial and artisanal,” she explains and she insists that CleanFish’s suppliers from Scotland to Nunavut take great pains to protect the environment to produce the best tasting fish.

Valerie Johnson in Gooseberry Cove, Newfoundland agrees. she and her husband, Claude Seward, describe themselves as “cod ranchers” and supply CleanFish with the fish that was so severely endangered in the early 1990s that the Canadian government shut down the entire wild fishery. Even now, it is strictly managed on small quotas.

Johnson explained to me on the phone that she and Seward use their quota to fish cod that are trap caught with no bycatch or habitat destruction. They are all at the legal size when caught and are all counted against the quota. Then, they turn their traps into cages and hold the fish live inshore: what they call ranching.

The cod are fed on herring and pilchards that Seward catches himself to fatten them up for the market. Those local feed fish are in abundant supply because they’ve lost one of their main predators, the cod. By fattening the cod before sale, he’s able to increase his income by selling a greater number of pounds of cod without taking more fish from the water.

Auberge de Pommier’s Chef Jason Bangerter is a big fan, excited to be able to buy Canadian cod again in good conscious. Other top Toronto restaurants serving the sustainable cod include Scaramouche, Zucca Trattoria and Rodney’s by Bay. The local supplier MacGregors acts as the distributer here.

Lumea is convinced that practices like cod ranching hold the key to the future of seafood. “We need to move away from worrying about individual species and start looking at individual producers, like any other kind of food production.”

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